How To Avoid Becoming a Cult (or for that matter A Large Consumer Mega Church): Oikos versus Ekklesia

imagesOikos and Ekklesia: Every Church Needs Both

In Gregory Dix’s monumental book The Shape of the Liturgy he describes how the early gathering of the Christians took on a double character. There were private meetings in homes where an intimate fellowship around the Table happened weekly. This was called oikos (the household). And there were meetings that were larger and public that gave witness to the reality that Jesus is Lord over the wider polis /city. This became called the ekklesia, a Greek term used to refer to the political gathering of the city to discuss the affairs of the city (although the Christian use of this word took from Hebrew/Jewish connotations). Dix says that public worship (ekklesia) happened in the synagogue where Scripture was read, gospel proclaimed and celebrated and open to the public. But there was no Eucharist. Dix says private worship took place in private homes where they gathered to share a meal, apostles teaching, the Lord’s Table, and the sending (oikos Dix p. 36). Here the gathering was centered in the Eucharist. Dix says this private/public distinction was maintained until Constantine where a shift happened “From Private to Public Worship”  (p. 304ff).  As Roman society became officially Christian, and there was no need to discern who was “present” as a Body-member around the Table, the private function and the public function melded. Huge public buildings were built or taken over. The tension between private and public was lost. (*Note: This is my read on Dix. There is some dispute as to how to interpret all this. See Bernd Wannenwetsch Political Worship ch. 6).

IMO all of the above speaks loud and clear that the church must necessarily be both private and public. Every church must hold these two social dynamics together or it can no longer be church. We are called to both gather in intimate fellowship in the Spirit around the presence of Christ (and in this we are formed and shaped into His Kingdom as His body in the world) and we are also called to give public witness socially to the new political reality coming into being, the Kingdom of God. The two dynamics feed off one another and make each possible. Either one on its own shrinks and eventually loses its integrity.

We Need Both or else Bad Things Happen

In a culture where we no longer can assume people are Christians, I contend we once again need to separate oikos and ekklesia in the local church. Perhaps in a Christianized world, say the 1950’s, we could afford to do both at the same time. We could hold large gatherings open to the public where we do the Eucharist and not lose its meaning, and central forming force. But today, in many places, we can no longer assume everybody knows what it means to surrender and be present to the very presence of Christ, his forgiveness, reconciliation and new life, in the bread and the cup. If we don’t maintain the oikos/ekkelsia distinction, bad things happen.

For instance, when we emphasize ekklesia to the exclusion of oikos our life loses the intimacy of life in His presence and in the presence of one another. We lose the space in which we are nurtured and formed into His reign and transformation through all the gifts and the Lord’s Table etc. Mega churches have long recognized the need for oikos. Amidst the huge gathering open to seekers, the small places got lost where true discipleship takes place. They tried their hardest to have small groups or local community house gatherings. Yet still, I contend, when the Sunday morning attractional event is so central, it determines the other smaller social spaces. People get trained into consumerist events as the basis of their Christianity. The ability to be present, open and vulnerable to one another around a Table is lost.  The inbreaking life of Kingdom that shatters the hold of society’s sins is lost and the church becomes more and more accommodative and consumerist the longer it is detached from oikos.

On the other hand, when we emphasize oikos to the exclusion of ekklesia we become isolated from the life of the broader context in which we live. Indeed we become cult-ish. We gather in homes in such intimacy and drink of the blessing of that life until we are full. We are involved in the neighborhood relationally, engaging the hurting and lost. But when someone wants to become part of this social body where together we all can make sense of Christ and in the encounter around the Table, outsiders can’t enter. It’s too intimidating. Years later, we have become isolated unable to speak the language of those outside us. The little community becomes more ingrown as the years go by. Amish? Exclusive? Even Cultish?

This Problem in Missional Communities

Most missional communities/new missional start-ups I know start by inhabiting a context/neighborhood with oikos. It is rich, contextual and place to work out on the ground what God is doing. This makes sense to me. Every home is a place to be present to Christ and one another and allow the Kingdom (His Lordship) to shape this place and our presence together in the world. But eventually, if there is no public meeting, this small community gets shut out from the neighborhood because of the intense intimacy and incredible encounter. It becomes a clique a cult. No one can break in. (The early church had this problem).

Certainly members of the small house gathering make friends, relationally the Kingdom happens, and they can invite them in. But!! Too often the boundaries to enter are too high. The habits of the small intimate gathering have gone unchallenged for too long by the social reality outside it. There is no bridge place for outsiders to make sense enough to commit to becoming part of an oikos.

And so, I believe it is as essential for the local oikos to have ekklesia just as it is for the ekklesia to have oikos.

The more I think about this, and the more I hear of what others are doing in cities like Minneapolis, Cleveland etc. (Mike Breen has advocated a version of this here) the more I see the advantages of organizing the church gatherings into something like this (although there are many other ways to accomplish holding oikos and ekklesia together in tension without either melding into the other).

1. Keep oikos in the homes. Here we have a sharing of a meal. We have mutual sharing of our lives. We have Scriptural proclamation. We have Eucharist and prayer. We have presence with one another. We have a sending.

2.Once a month however we have a broader celebration friendly to the public (ekklesia): Call it “Celebration of What God is Doing” in (town or village you inhabit).”

Here we would:

  • Invite all churches in the neighborhood to join us.
  • We would collectively tell stories of what God is doing in neighborhood …
  • We would proclaim the gospel over this neighborhood (what we used to call preaching) in such a way that connects to everyone in neighborhood.
  • We would praise God in music and celebratory praise and invite the world into this.
  • We would send out with a blessing over the city/village we inhabit.

Here there would be NO Eucharist – no intimate settings where we share life … it could not possibly be a staple of Christian life. But it can be public ecclesia gospel witnessing event that gives people the wherewithal to make sense of what they are seeing (hearing rumors of) in the neighborhood and encouraging everyone into what God is doing.

If you have a large building in center of town, use this building for this grand celebration every month. But do not let this meeting become the center of Christian life or else oikos will be lost and the church will lose the tension.

Instead use the larger building (larger than a house) for gathering together to care of important functions in the church such as children’s catechesis, serve needs of the community – food for the hurting, recreation, concerts for the local businesses.

In summary

Every missional church needs both oikos and ekklesia. Many hold oikos and ekklesia in tension in different ways. At Life on the Vine what has evolved is a singular gathering where both are held together in one gathering with intensified oikos developed in local missional order house gatherings. On the other hand, our discussions in Peace of Christ church suggest another strategy altogether. There are many different approaches but the two must be held in tension. How do you hold both in tension at your church? How does one get lost in the other?

Posted in consumerism, Cultivating Mission, Ecclesiology, Missional Ecclesiology, Post-Attractional
48 comments on “How To Avoid Becoming a Cult (or for that matter A Large Consumer Mega Church): Oikos versus Ekklesia
  1. Scot McKnight says:

    What is the evidence that ekklesia and oikos are distinguished this way, either in the NT (where it most certainly does not exist) or in the early church?

  2. Scot McKnight says:

    Here you go here too what I said on your FB page: “Rom 16:5 says the church meets in their oikos.1 Cor 16:19, the church meets in their oikos. Col 4:15, church meets in an oikos. 1 Tim 3:15: “you may know how one ought to behave in the house[hold] of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” Phm 2: church meets in an oikos.”

    David, I don’t see the NT evidence for this.

  3. Scot McKnight says:

    The only NT text that suggests the Christians gathered in a synagogue is in the Jewish text, Letter of James, and there the term is disputed – some think it refers to law court cases. In James 5 we see the word “church” — other than James there is no evidence for Dix’s claim.

    I see the evidence contra his oikos vs. ekklesia claim; the evidence for his ekklesia = synagogue is almost non-existent. Not Pauline and not Petrine.

    Conclusion: biblically unsupportable.

    The ekklesia gathered in oikos is the politic, both inwardly and outwardly.

    • Chris Morton says:


      I get your point…but I have to ask “So what?”

      The question of ecclesial structure is not only one of honoring 1 century norms, but also proclaiming a 21st century gospel.

      If Peter, Paul & John were that concerned about meeting structure, they would have been overt about it. They don’t say when to meet, how often, where, or what size groups. Is this because different cities and different people groups would organize differently according to their culture?

      In other words, the Bible doesn’t enforce a structure because the structure must be determined missionally/incarnationally.


      Chris Morton

      • David Fitch says:

        Enforce a structure? I don’t see it this way Chris. These are principles worked out in history, in time, concrete circumstances,in the same sense that incarnational is a principle (except I concur incarnational is much more than a principle, it is a logic, a way of being in the world in His Lordship). I would say that a private/oikos/presence together with a public/visible witness/ekklesia can be seen in Jesus own habits of gathering the disicples and wider ministry. So in so far as incarnational goes, I simply see this as one way of filing out what incarnational might mean.
        Hope this helps?

        • Chris Morton says:

          I agree.

          My baggage is being taught to read the Bible, especially Acts as the “constitution” of the Church. But Luke seems pretty focused on telling history.

          In other words, let’s read Acts as “here’s how the Holy Spirit acted in 1st C. AD. You can expect him to act similarly in your situation.”

    • Luke Dalach says:

      Friends, I know I’m late in this convo. One bit of historical perspective that should be in this discussion: The houses that the “ecclesiai met in” were more than likely larger houses of wealthier disciples. These houses were a blend of what we’d think of as a family’s house (including multi-generations, servants, etc.) and also a small business storefront. There was movement in and out of these houses of both family and strangers. Perhaps it wasn’t that hard for the “sinful woman” to get into Simon’s house because his house was one of these family/public hybrids.

      What that would mean for this convo is that the ecclesia gatherings in an oikos would have had a definite public connection in the city.

      I’m not sure what that would mean for our current “house” gatherings since that public connection is not built in. We’ve felt this tension and for our gatherings sometimes have BBQs at our house and sometimes meet in parks to have a more public connection with people we’re meeting.

  4. David Fitch says:

    Perhaps I should have been clearer. Dix (has there been anyone who has surpassed his history of liturgy 50 yrs ago?) draws this distinction from the post NT apostolic church pre Constantine church period. Wannenwetsch sees some of this in embryonic form in NT but is largely developing it from post NT church history as well. Dix is clear the two functions join in the Constantine period. I agree that there is no direct evidence of the distinction in NT. One does see however how the the oikos is exclusive in 1 Cor 11, and 1 Cor 5, but already allowing idiotes in the assembly of 1 Cor 14. I agree this easily could be conflated in one group during Paul’s time, but surely causes issues as the church becomes more public later on.

  5. Scot McKnight says:

    And has anyone’s theories about the EC been more contested than Dix’s? My reading of him is that he’s got some quirky, often proto-Catholic, heuristics at work. Did the early church use “synagogue” for its gatherings? Evidence?

    • David Fitch says:

      well… there’s alot of peeps who still revere Dix … and Wannenwetsch. I will of course submit to other patristic scholars who might weigh in on them.

      • Since you asked….

        Dix is still important, but patrologists and historians of the liturgy still treat him with some suspicion. I’d turn very quickly to Robert Taft, Paul Bradshaw, and maxwell Johnson who have done mug more recent and historical work. It is my sense that they are the standard for the history of the liturgy.

        I think though that Dave’s argument is one to be tested in the sub-apostolic period (Didache through the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus and the Apostolic Constitutions). The line between oikos and ekklesia seems sufficiently blurred by the time of the House Church at Dura Europas, which was a home converted to a worship building by the mid 200′s. but even before that we know of assemblies in the catacombs- that included meal celebrations. So the public nature of the assembly still seems to be both in and out of homes.


  6. Chris Jones says:


    I think Scot’s comments are exactly right. This distinction just doesn’t exist in the NT. This doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the suggestion. In the town I live in, once a year all of the churches gather together on a Sunday to (a) worship together in the manner you suggest, (b) share lunch together and (c) serve the local area. We do not celebrate the eucharist together because Catholics, Mennonites, Methodist, etc. are meeting together and we respect each other’s perspective on the Eucharist.

  7. David Fitch says:

    your example is encouraging. And although I didn’t make it clear, Dix is a historian of early church. He was outlining the period of liturgical development between apostles and Constantine. So I wasn’t drawing this distinction from the New Testament although I think you can already see some the early issues developing.
    Blessings on your ministry.

  8. Zach Hoag says:

    Dave, are you saying that LotV has a weekly Sunday gathering that is both intimate (oikos) and public (ecclesia)? Having done a “gathered/scattered” celebration gathering/missional community model, I’m increasingly drawn to a simpler parish church approach where the neighborhood is in focus and a single intimate-yet-public gathering suffices. Not that there won’t be other scattered things happening (groups of various kinds) but there is not as much stress on the necessity for distinct home based communities.

    • David Fitch says:

      Hoag-ie … or er … Hoag-ser …(struggling to find hockey name for you) Life on the Vine is a hyrid of sorts … of us in the Vine church plants are struggling with this dynamic. The challenge is that the intimate yet public gathering can’t accomplish both and often turns one way or the other.

      • Zach Hoag says:

        Haha, Hoagie is fine (just avoid any form of the word “hog” if possible :) . I see your point. I think hybrid/both-and is always necessary, but my question is whether the “micro” missional form (house church, missional community) ought to be seen as the mandatory building block of local church. IOW, public parish gatherings that retain intimacy can be primary, while scattered groups in the neighborhood can accomplish secondary “deeper” and “further” ministry.

  9. Nathan says:

    Good application of a possibly non-existent biblical model! No, really – I think you’re on to something we’ve been trying to work out in our little missional community. Here’s how I would put it in NT terms: The ekklesia, as the called-out ones gather privately “from house to house”, but as the sent-out ones (apostles or ekballo), would function publicly as Jesus’ witnesses – be that in the synagogues or marketplace, etc. How do you guys see these humble thoughts?

  10. Patrick Oden says:

    The only parallel I can think of is not the teaching in the synagogues, but rather the disciples teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem.

    The terminology, though, is more theologically useful than historically precise. My understanding of ekklesia was that while it had a bigger meaning in some respects, by the time of the New Testament it was a fairly mundane word, a gathering, a gathering of Christian that met in houses.

    I’m trying to think of instances in early church literature that would provide the public/private distinction, does Dix point any out or is he going by the terminology as a guide?

    One of my favorite passages, ch. 39 in Tertullian’s Apology, gives a great picture of the church as a house meeting, with the public element the fact that Christians are consistent, a public testimony by being fully Christian whether hidden or public. He writes, “We are in our congregations just what we are when separated from each other; we are as a community what we are individuals; we injure nobody, we trouble nobody.”

    Of course, he wouldn’t use the ekklesia/oikos distinction, given his Latin, but there’s no indication of any distinction, except that there’s a meeting, then there’s the rest of life.

    The testimony of the martyrs were also seen, in writing and in speaking, to be a witness to the broader public. The stoning of Stephen is the archetype of this form of public testimony. Stories like that of Polycarp and many others carried that well into the following centuries.

    In other words, in Tertullian and elsewhere there’s definitely a private and public understanding of ministry, but it’s not so much a distinctive service as a transformative presence in the midst of circumstances that others might encounter. People saw how Christians behaved or testified in the midst of that

    • David Fitch says:

      All I can say Patrick is good stuff, interesting, and this adds to how the distinction might work. Would it then still be possible (as a diagnostic) to say that if either of the two aspects oikos/ekklesia is not being exhibited in the life of a particular community, we then need to ask what we are doing and how we might adjust to be fully present in both oikos/ekklesia sense? I think so.

      • Patrick Oden says:

        I think so as well. When we breath we need to inhale and exhale. Just doing one or the other breaks down the whole system. In the intimate gatherings we find rejuvenation, re-orientation (in a good sense), edification, encouragement, sustaining us in the new system that is the expression of the Kingdom, which then finds expression in contradictory environments wherever we go: work, marketplace, amusements.

        I think this is a public testimony whether we are intentional about it or not. The trouble comes in adopting bifurcated patterns, so that our expression of Jesus in one forum is distinct from our expression of Jesus in another forum.

        I think a diagnostic here is indeed worthwhile, but I wonder if the public expression needs to be formal, like Camp meetings or Evangelism crusade. If we are the church wherever we are at, then the oikos becomes extended into the ekklesia of public gatherings, we gather with others in the gatherings of our community as a different kind of people, expressing hope, expressing love.

        As we respond within the instincts of this oikos-sustained system within the other system that has competing expressions, a fractal transformation is extended, one that includes evangelism but also includes expressions of an eschatologically transformed vision of all of life.

  11. Nathan says:

    Thanks David – Temple, correct … I must have had synagogue on my brain. Although, one could speculate that Paul and the diaspora believers met from time in the synagogues (where they were available). But I agree with you that “it’s not so much a distinctive service as a transformative presence in the midst of circumstances that others might encounter.” – Excellent!

  12. eric says:

    My question is- if this understanding of ekklesia is not supported biblically, do you believe that the coroporate gatherings most churches make central, sometimes with thousands of people gathered together is consisted with a NT understanding of oikos?

    • Scot McKnight says:

      No, in brief, but Perhaps in nuance. Does that church also have small groups where fellowship, worship, teaching, prayer, etc occur? If so, then Yes. If not, No.

      • Zach Hoag says:

        Scot, like. And perhaps even more like if there is some intention about limiting the size of those public gatherings and moving away from a mega model to a parish model.

        • Scot McKnight says:

          I’m not sure we ought to battle size so much as impact, results, discipleship, worship, etc. Poorly managed small house groups are just as bad, perhaps even worse because of intensity of relationship, as poorly managed megachurches. Megachurches that focus on pastorally led small groups leading to deep discipleship… what’s wrong with that?

  13. Dan Jr. says:

    I just saw this post because I was camping with my missional cult. Ha-ha.

    I love this dialogue. This is what our leading community is constantly conversing about. I’m convinced how we gather makes up a large portion of our prophetic posture. We’ve settled on a more primary/secondary instead of an equal tension for a couple of reasons.

    1. We don’t see enough Biblical evidence for a high emphasis (weekly) on the polis/ekklsia. I do see some detail for the household’s gathering together but not more than once a month and maybe even less. Robert J. Banks suspects they came together in the larger synagogue mainly to accommodate the Apostle Paul’s visit.

    2. Paul pours an obnoxious amount of energy gardening the household oikos structure, I just can’t get away from this. I’m convinced Eucharist was not a public act. I think that’s why there were mysterious rumors about what actually was occurring because in some ways it was hidden.

    3. Consumerism and Individualism are the most destructive forces in our Empire. I’m not sure you can hold a public gathering (liturgical, contemporary or whatever) without people interfacing with it through that lens. Consumerism takes the must meaningful aspects of gathering (communion, worship, Word proclamation, Prayer) and turns them into me-things.

    4. Gathering publicly eats up budgets and resources. Our community would not have survived in the early days without staying super-lean financially. We didn’t have the burden of rent.

    5. We wanted to stem the flow of visitors and onlookers. We wanted to grow organically from our relational networks. We have grown at a good pace that has been manageable and rooted in incarnational relationships.

    Our scaffolding is a network of weekly oikos assembly’s that size between 20 to 40 people that meet in a home. These gatherings are light weight/low stress but highly packed full of Body-life practices. We then have a monthly open collective gathering (parks, a rented space etc) that has been a softer entry point for some. Still I’m not sure we can ever shake the Cultish M.O if we don’t look somewhat like the Catholic, Contemporary or Baptist church down the road. We are OK with this.

    I’ve personally learned truckloads from a pastor-friend in China about the necessity to be nimble, stripped-down and home-centric when gathering. They are viewed as a cult. I’m convinced we need to take on the form of a persecuted/marginalized church whether we feel persecuted/marginalized or not.


    • David Fitch says:

      Good thoughts as always Dan Jr. …
      and I think that some communities pull off the oikos/ekklesia double character of church life without ever having any so-called “pubic” gathering. I can see how this oikos/ekkelsia dynamic in places like China is completely different than say in U.S.A. … and I get your reticence, and I’ve been there too. But I’ve become more convinced (via Hauerwas, Wittgenstein and my own experiences with missional church communities) that the one outside a community cannot ULTIMATELY understand what individual Christians are doing and saying apart from seeing Christianity in its social reality wherein Christian language and daily life is fit within a larger more socially embodied framework. This takes some kind of political public visible reality where they can get a glimpse. Of course this will be different in various places and social contexts such as China, Viet Nam etc.
      Let’s carry on this discussion.
      Looks like IO might be out to Syracuse possibly in January.

      • Dan Jr says:

        “This takes some kind of political public visible reality where they can get a glimpse.” I agree with this statement fully. Can this be done monthly? I think it can.

        I’ve not seen oikos kept vital when the public gathering is weekly. On top of that when you have a weekly public gathering, a weekly household communal gathering, a weekly discipleship relationship/cluster and intentionality in the neighborhood something is going to snap. Usually what gets pitched in peoples calendars is one of the missional or communal essential rhythms. This is a cold reality in American life. This is one more reason for a less frequent public gathering.

        I pastored in a parish model liturgical church and we could not get people into communities on mission once they came through the front “public” door. We did everything we could possibly do in discipling people to move into neighborhood-centric shared-life families. But most wouldn’t budge because their felt needs were already being met. The was psychological hurdle we could not overcome.

        I’ve yet to be convinced it can be overcome without expending energy we don’t have and taking needed energy away from discipleship and community. Keep in mind this is all done with accepted bi-vo limitations.

        Peace. Send me an email about visiting Cuse.

  14. Chris Morton says:


    Two questions,

    1. I have also heard it explained that Jewish Christians tended to use a synagogue model, while Gentiles created a house church model. Thoughts?

    2. How is this different than the “cell/celebration” model?


    Chris Morton

    • Scot McKnight says:

      On number 1, when? where?

      • Chris Morton says:


        It’s been awhile, but I have a vague memory of a theory behind the writing of Romans. The idea was that Jewish Christians established a synagogue style church, but were kicked out of Rome by Claudius. Roman Gentiles moved to a house church model. The tension behind Romans was the clash when the Jews returned to Rome.

        Sorry I don’t recall the source.


  15. Chris Morton says:

    Some related thoughts I wrote about a year ago on missional structures:

    Many missional endeavors seem to do little more than gather burned out church people in a living room. Often, in an attempt to differentiate themselves from their over-programmed counterparts, they fail to develop strategy and structure. They may provide a meaningful opportunity for worship, healing and community, but it is doubtful whether they ever truly engage their community in a missional way.

  16. David Fitch says:

    Just FYI, this is what I wrote to my bro whom I love Scot McKnight on FB tonite. This conversation is taking place onm two platforms.
    So Scot, we have a disagreement here, because there is more than Scripture/proof texting etc.,in working out theology. There is the history of doctrine as a faithful extension of Scripture. This is what I am arguing for here: That can see in the work of Dix and Wannenwetsch …This development is present in pre-Constantinian history and change occurs at Constantine,. Now I cannot produce a research paper in a blog post or FB posts. That’s ridiculous. What I can provide is a basic logic, and point to credible sources that have extensively outlined the genesis of these principles in history. And then I can ask, does this make sense as a principle to be tested and figured out theologically with what the rest of what we know about the church. These ideas are embryonic in the early politics of NT church. The idiotes is present in the public meeting in 1 Cor 14 (public/ekkleisa impulse), the closed discerning of the body is present in 1 Cor 5, 11 (the oikos impulse). Now of course these principles are not worked out and signs of it are sparce. Paul is working out this tension in 1 Corinthians. These sparse impulses work out in histroy and change. We learn from them just like we learn from Bill Hybels/Willowcreek what to do and not to do theologically. THAT’S THE POINT!! I am not arguing that these ideas fully worked in practice are present in NT church. But for goodness sake, I believe in the real presence at the Eucharist, but it is a ‘principle’ worked out and proven overtime, not proven on the Emmaeus road.

    Peace bro .. you know I love you! And since you’re older than me and smarter than me I will always submit to your wisdom

    • Scot McKnight says:

      David, it is not always easy to discern what the NT Christians were doing in their oikoi. I’m inclined to think they gathered together often — fellowship, prayer, teaching, discussions, care for one another. To think anyone would have gathered only on a Sunday is hard to believe for those early oikoi. Yet, clearly, Justin Martyr’s description of an ekklesia gathering is worth seeing as what typical: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors [give assistance to] the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

      How do you read Justin Martyr’s statement?

      Are you saying Dix thinks the oikoi met during the week but on Sundays the various oikoi gathered into a full congregation/ekklesia?

      One more: it is not unusual to think there were about 100-200 Christians in Rome when Paul wrote. Was there a place for them all to gather?

  17. David Fitch says:

    Dix refers to that passage. The question is, was that an open Eucharist? probably not. So that was an oikos. Yes? How then was the church as gathered a witness to the public order? Wannenwetsch is asking about the public political nature of that gathering. And granted it is not necessarily a single answer: it was a private sociality/ no it was a political witness/public sociality, but it is a valid question with its roots in NT. I see the argument that some are saying: that this gathering was both. Even W. wants to make that argument in some places. What I am extracting from both Dix and W. is that the church gathering had to have both oikos and ekklesia/ private and public/ in order to be church whether it only met int he church or it had a gathering opento the public. According to Dix, the Constantinian synthesis made it easier to do both in one, even if doing both together may have happened prior to 301AD and following. I’m not trying to prove an historical fact. I am illustrating a reality that has interesting parallels in 1st through 3rd centuries. The tensions are present there and even in NT. But the NT church itself was too embryonic to deal with these cultural issues in any complete way.

  18. So, as Chris M. asks, how is this substantially different than the cell/celebration model? While I understand differences in theology (missio Dei) and context,(postmodernity) much of what is being discussed here regarding ecclesial structures sounds like literature written fifteen years ago by those in the cell movement, with global applications including England and Europe. Am I missing something? The functions sound strangely similar.

  19. Malcolm Tyree says:

    Though I love this discussion of the theoretical and ideal, I have practical concerns. First and foremost how do children fit into these pre-Constantine gatherings? How do they fit into a gathering today? With parents struggling to structure their kids and keep them “in line” without the aid of a screen, it seems this is all fun talk but is only meaningful to the childless. I struggle regularly to find ways to engage our sojourners in our weekly public-yet-intimate gatherings (40 adults, 20 kids & teens). We find home groups very difficult to sustain. The challenge of finding rhythms for connecting with one another and our Christ is immense. All said and done, thanks for the insight into the tension of private and public gatherings.

    • Dan Jr. says:

      Just a question, are you leading this group by solo?

      Our church finds missional communities actually quite low maintenance because we have a large mutual 5-foldish team leading. That has been the key to a really low stress operation. Our communities are filled with children but we all take care of children. We have a small, simple but meaningful kids portion that keeps the chaos down. We have the occasional energy-filled kid interrupt but that is how family meetings feel. I’m convinced our kids have a better understanding of community, justice, and mission. We’ve had to disciple our communities to welcome children as Jesus welcomes them.

  20. Great conversation!

    We are in the toddler stage of missional community network or scattered/gathered approach (currently we have three communities). I really like the terminology or principle set forth by Dave.

    I would suggest switching the intentions or purposes of the oikos and ekklesia. We are approaching the ekklesia/oikos principle in recognizing, as Martyr seems to infur, that the ekklesia informs us of our faith. In the ekklesia, our faith/tradition is proclaimed through the reading of the Scriptures, instruction and/or exhortation, prayer, giving, and the participation of the Eucharist.

    In the oikos, our faith is lived out. It is in oikos that our righteousness is exercised and grace, mercy, forgiveness, and justice is worked out through our love of Christ. In the oikos, we learn to be of one mind and Spirit. This practicing of loving one another is done in the presence of our local community and/or neighborhood through neighborhood celebrations, service opportunities, and family dinners. Discipleship also takes place in the oikos.

    The oikos that gets bogged down in the liturgical matters of faith does indeed become difficult for those outside the faith to enter in. On the other hand, liturgy is quite enjoyable for the outsider to observe in a public, less intimate, space. This allows them to observe with a little more anonymity. We want others to experience our faith in living color through our oikos. The oikos is where the rubber meets the road in living under the Lordship of Christ.

    Would love to hear any pushback!

    P.S. This is why I enjoy both Fitch and Scot. Dave is addicted to good dialogue and Scot is all about “show me the Scripture.” I hope this goes to show that good conversation can be had over the internet :) .

  21. Scot McKnight says:

    Are you, David, saying “oikos” is small group fellowship, inward focused, while “ekklesia” is larger group worship/fellowship, more outward looking?

  22. Chris Morton says:

    Dave (and Scot & co.),

    Do you think that scripture teaches an open or closed Eucharist? Could that be contextual as well?

    I’ve been a part of churches that had a closed/public & an open/public, but never private. I see a lot of value of for having a public Eucharist, because it is an incredible teaching moment. But are we losing something by doing that?


  23. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    David, I think you’ve got it backwards on the early church stuff. I think you’ve confused the functions of the Eucharist and the agape (the love feast).

    Yes, during the earliest meetings, it seems that they were one in the same (which makes sense, considering the eucharist’s double heritage of mini-kingdom banquets with Jesus and Jesus last passover). But once the Roman Empire forbid the meetings of private groups, the church was forced to change it’s worship time from evening to morning, the Eucharist and the agape were separated, and the Eucharist became a token meal.

    Here’s the key piece of evidence that I think reveals your error: only bishops could celebrate the Eucharist (or a designated presbyter in the absence of a bishop). And there was only one bishop and one ekklesia per city. And there was a tradition of only one meeting time on sundays for the whole ekklesia. (I direct you to John Zizoulas’s Eucharist, Bishop, Church for all the evidence. There’s a complete free version online.) In fact, the logic of the Eucharist was a little different then than we have today. The whole body of Christ in a city needed to be present to make the Eucharist. (Of course, as the church grew, this became a problem.)

    So for your reading to be correct, there would need to be the bishop of a city going from house to house celebrating the Eucharist privately. Not only did this not happen, the sources present an almost opposite picture of this.

    It does seem that the agape did continue to happen in homes, but did not require the presence of the whole ekklesia, nor a bishop (or even a presbyter) to preside.

    In other words, I think Jeff is on the right track. Eucharist for Ekklesia. Agape for Oikos.

    Of course, the fragmentation of the body of Christ in the Eucharist is a shame on the whole church. But avoiding the problem by having large public multi-denominational gatherings without the Eucharist simply sweeps it under the rug.

  24. David Fitch says:

    Hey Jonathan, thanks for this reference to Zizloulas.
    I think we may be using the word ecclesia differently. Likewise it’s disputable to say the least that there was a bishop only Eucharist in Early church in period before Constantin. Wouldn’t you agree?
    But I’ll read Zizoulas more closely in days head.

  25. I think Roger Gehring’s House Church and Mission gives a good update on scholarly/archaeology research in this field (oikos/ekklesia)
    [he's a prof at George Fox; PhD from Tubingen]

  26. bob cameron says:

    We are working on a three circle model – ecclesia / oikos / development. The first is the gathering of all households for realignment to the mission; the second for intimacy, care, communion, baptism; the third is for blessing the neighbourhood. It’s an attempt to enact Snyder’s Communion/Community/Mission model. We could see people moving into relationships at all three circles and then eventually finding a place in the other circles. Through all three we are counter-formed (Smith), individually and as a community.

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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